One Man's Opinion - Washington State review

For whatever reason, I was not overly concerned about this game. Prior to the game, I knew that the Washington State Cougars could put up some points, but I was convinced that their defense is relatively weak and they had no chance, none whatsoever, to slow down the USC offensive juggernaut.

My lack of concern was certainly justified and after the first four Trojan offensive possessions, my only question was this. Would this be the first game in which USC scored every single time it had the ball? Of course, such an expectation is not only unrealistic, it borders on being simply cocky. That is not an emotion that I have usually felt during this incredible 30 game winning streak by the Southern California Trojans.

However after watching the Cougars give up so many points to UCLA and then to Cal, I simply knew that they could not stop USC, or even slow them down. Such was the case today during the lopsided game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In front of a capacity homecoming crowd of 92,021 fans, USC demolished the Washington State Cougars 55-13 and the game was only that close because Coach Pete Carroll called of the dogs, so to speak, and substituted very liberally for part of the third quarter and for the entire 4th quarter. Washington State's coach, Bill Doba, had a classic comment when interviewed by the ABC commentator at the end of the first half. When asked what he would say to his team, down 38-6 at halftime, he said he would tell them to play their best and to not look at the score. And then he said, yes, they (The Trojans) are the number one team, and he said it with a smile on his face. One could just tell that he had seen enough, and the game could not end soon enough.

What can one say about this Trojan team? Offensively, they were awesome. Matt Leinart was right on the money and the running game was clicking. The Trojans ran inside, outside, passed short, passed medium range, and they even stretched the field. There were no significant offensive shortcomings. Yes, Matt proved to be human and the interception he threw came on a play when it looked like he was trying to get greedy and he made what might have been his only bad decision of the entire game. Overall, Matt was in his customary Heisman Trophy level mode, completing 24 of 36 for 364 yards. I might be way off in my analysis, but I honestly feel, that had Matt and Pete decided to pour it on, Matt could have thrown for 600 yards and 6 touchdowns. Washington State was helpless trying to stop the passing attack. One can't help but get the feeling that when Matt is allowed to start off throwing short stuff including the current version of the bubble screen to Dwayne Jarrett and outlets to the backs, there is nobody who can stop him. He gets into that rhythm of his, and then forget about it. The USC passing game is too strong to keep in check for long. When one combines those high percentage passes with the tough running by Reggie and LenDale, the opposing defense becomes helpless trying to keep SC in check. A natural consequence of the early short passing game success and running success is that the USC receivers soon end up wide open for the midrange and long range passes. Such was the case today at the Coliseum. On two different touchdown passes by Matt, the receivers were so wide open it was scary. Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett each got so far open that it really did appear that the Trojans were simply toying with the Cougars.

Knowing that the game was relatively out of Washington State's reach by halftime, and that the best way to keep Washington State from scoring was to keep their vaunted offense off the field, the Trojans played a significant amount of keep away and smash mouth football for much of the second half. SC was running the ball and controlling the clock. To my eye, this was the first time all year that SC actually handed the ball off to power tailback LenDale White on three consecutive carries when the ball was inside the ten yard line and it was goal to goal. My friend TerryTrojan32 and I watched in amazement as White got not one, not two, but three tries and he finally busted the ball into the endzone. Finally, we got to see SC and their huge Oline and running game pound the ball into the endzone without any fades, without any bootlegs and without any passes. Washington State might have known it was coming, but guess what? The Cougars could not stop it. Even for a guy who loves the passing game and high scoring outbursts the Trojans have become famous for in recent years, it was still like music to my ears watching SC simply pound it in on goal to go.

How about the defense? Well, in my humble opinion, this was the best defensive effort of the entire year by this sometimes beleaguered USC defense. Washington State came into the game averaging a very impressive 518.4 yards per game; 216.9 on the ground and 301 through the air. Today USC shut down the Cougs and held them to a mere 284 net yards for the game. Usually, USC tries to make its opponents play one dimensional football. They often accomplish this by taking away a team's running game and forcing the quarterbacks and receivers to beat them, or at least to try to beat them. Today, the end result was awesome, but things played out in a most atypical format.

Washington State and their very talented tailback, Jerome Harrison, actually managed to run the ball very well against USC. After shutting down Harrison last season, this year Jerome became the only back so far to rush for over 100 yards, gaining 147 yards on 21 carries. Despite this, the rest of the Washington State offense was shut down. The Cougars passed for only 89 nets yards and how do you do? Who could or would have ever guessed that this far too often maligned defense, and defensive backfield in particular, could have ever controlled the high flying Cougars so well? I can't help but wonder if the return of kids like Brian Cushing and the emergence of freshmen like Rey Maualuga, Kevin Thomas ,Cary Harris, and Will Harris have given this defense that extra spark that they have been needing? And even more pressing is the following question, at least to me. Could it be that the unfortunate loss of John Walker and Terrell Thomas have ironically led to the emergence of a budding star named Josh Pinkard? I can't help but remember that the sudden emergence of this defense does seem to correspond to all of the above! As has so often been the case since Pete Carroll has taken over the reigns at USC, when one guy goes down, another steps up and often exceeds the play of the guy who was originally playing. This may be a controversial notion, and it is certainly not meant with any disrespect. I simply feel that USC's defense is getting better.

The special teams also played better football today. Troy Vanblarcom did an excellent job on kickoffs. It was obvious that he was told to pooch kick the ball on occasions and on other occasions he was able to boom the ball very deep, thus preventing any return at all. The Trojans did a much better job covering both kickoffs and punts. In those phases of the game, it certainly seems that both Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing have stepped up in a big way. On one return, Rey came down as a gunner and hit the ballcarrier so hard, it reminded me of the famous smack former Trojan linebacker David Lewis imparted upon some unfortunate Notre Dame kickreturner some 31 years ago. On other plays, it seemed like Cushing was either in on a tackle or ever so close to blocking a punt. These two freshmen are living up to all the hype that surrounded them coming into USC and that is not always an easy thing to do. All told, things are looking up for the Trojans and all they can do is continue to improve and play the lights out football that we have come to expect.

As I have stated on so many occasions, I absolutely believe that the USC offense is simply unstoppable. The receivers are incredible and if there is a better duo that Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, I have yet to see that duo. Both are incredible and Dwayne is rapidly becoming one of the premier guys in America. When healthy, Dominique Byrd is amazing and Fred Davis is improving in each and every game. Patrick Turner is getting better as well, and Chris McFoy is steady as well. What team in America can match the duo of Reggie Bush and LenDale White. To make matters even more interesting is that Michael Coleman is also emerging as a potent runner in his own right. Should the unthinkable happen, and Matt Leinart were to go down, I have a feeling that John David Booty has shown that he can and will lead this team well. He is not Matt Leinart; he does not have to be. He is, however, talented and capable. And then there is the Coaching Factor. Folks, forget it. If there is a guy out there who is better than SC's top guy, Pete Carroll, I have yet to see him. So far USC is 8-0 and they they play Stanford next week. It is a one game at a time situation and I still like USC's chances better than any other team's.


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